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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in tj's LiveJournal:

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    Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
    8:16 am
    My friend is dead
     Close your eyes for one moment and take one deep breath. Now pay attention. My friend Jeff was wrongfully arrested. While in custody they used a power drill on him and burned him in the face and eyes with acid before they shot him in the head. I have a hard time not crying every time I think about it.

    The feelings in the deepest part of my face and in the pit of my stomach certainly don’t go away when I let myself remember that his name is really Mohammed. Can anyone explain to me the logical difference in having him called by a different conventional human label called a name? Or that it’s happening right now and every day as the U.S. hands more people over to Iraqi police knowing they will be tortured and killed. This is a fact that our own U.S. government documents prove. Government documents released by WikiLeaks also show " '. . . how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents,' (Guardian) 'Incident by incident, the reports resemble a police blotter of the myriad ways Afghan civilians were killed -- not just in airstrikes but in ones and twos -- in shootings on the roads or in the villages, in misunderstandings or in a cross-fire, or in chaotic moments when Afghan drivers ventured too close to convoys and checkpoints'. (N.Y. Times) 'The Nato coalition in Afghanistan has been using an undisclosed "black" unit of special forces, Task Force 373, to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial ... The logs reveal that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path.' (Guardian)"  “A Canadian press report indicates that Kandahar's main hospital is overflowing with civilian casualties, and that ‘on some days, the floor is red with blood’.” [See article below]

    But what about national security? Aren't they trying to kill us? “McChrystal said that ‘for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.’ By so doing he made it clear that killing civilians is not only a moral and war crimes issue, but -- in today's interdependent world -- also threatens U.S. national security.”

    We’re limited human creatures that have trouble with large numbers. I know I can’t even picture 100 people being killed in one thought. But remember Jeff, what if he was your friend, your brother, your sister. Can you just try for a moment to hold in your mind the pain of that loss of that one person. Just for a moment. Now multiply that pain by 2. Do it another time. Take your time. Multiply it one more time. I guarantee you can’t keep going long enough to understand the amount of pain in suffering caused in your name and in my name in Afghanistan and Iraq right now. Literal war crimes. Stuff we killed Nazi’s for after World War II.

    If you’re a person that cares about human suffering, that is, if you’re not a sociopath or a psychopath I highly recommend checking out the article below for starters. I hurt too much inside to keep going to work and spending time with my family just pretending that everything is ok.

    I’ve started hanging out on the sidewalk in front of my local courthouse in observance with a few friends when I can. I’m tired of feeling alone and powerless. Let’s feel powerless together. At least it will be less lonely. I don’t get in the way. No one else needs to notice or care until they do. I work the weekends but feel free to go every Sunday or any other day you might choose to arbitrarily care about the rest of humanity. If you’re a candlemaker you can bring candles or whoever or whatever you want safely and in the context of peaceably assembling. Fuck War.

    WikiLeaks' Most Terrifying Revelation: Just How Much Our Government Lies to Us
    Wikileaks has shown that our government and military form a 'vast lying machine' that perpetrates mass murder in our name.
    Sunday, July 26th, 2009
    4:35 am
    sadly (?)
    my twitter is a lot more exciting right now (comparatively):
    Thursday, May 14th, 2009
    8:55 pm
    some of my essays
    Friday, May 8th, 2009
    3:38 pm
    a compendium of essential reading
    (feel free to skip the essay and head right to the juicy links)

    It is of absolutely fundamental importance for the vast majority of the human species to realize our common humanity. It is not an exaggeration to say that our lives depend on it. As technology continues to give each of us more power, and the corresponding effect that we have on others persons and the world expands, the question of what we choose to do with our freedom will decide more than just the fate of our species, but the biosphere as a whole. Since the Cold War era, it has been within the capability of our species to destroy itself and take most of the planet with us. And we are currently on a path of self-destruction being led by the greatest power on Earth that has been hijacked by elite interests that have succeeded in privatizing profits and externalizing costs at an unfathomable scale.

       Of fundamental importance to this project is the virtually total relinguishment of any claims to absolute truth or knowledge. Such claims are false relics from an evolutionary history that valued greater cohesion and solidarity in groups of humans competing with other groups of humans for resources for themselves and their progeny. Religious belief is completely natural, and spirituality is woven into the fabric of what it can mean to be human. However religious or ideological claims that arrogate a monopoly on the truth by definition create divisions between in-groups and out-groups. The in-group must include the entire species as a minimum; history has shown us strife as an alternative and that strife will pale in comparison to the fate that awaits us if we fail to recognize the humanity in each person unconditionally.

       The nature of knowledge is fundamentally tentative even with the broadest consensus of rational thought based on evidence, assertions to knowledge beyond that which cannot be verified or evidentially supported must be recognized as speculation, and as such provide no grounds from which to dehumanize or murder another human being. The spread of memes/ideas by force is a sign of intellectual weakness. Instead we must recognize that formal systems have been mathematically proven to be incapable of completion, and begin to come to grips with beginning to form a world that truly brings the limitations of knowledge to its core. No perfect being exists, every single one of us makes mistakes, and therefore there is nothing more dangerous to approaching the truth than the suppression of dissent.

       Corporations are not humans, and must be stripped of all human rights. The granting of human rights to a super-human psychopathic artificial intelligence severely diminishes, if not drowns out, the actual human rights of the living and breathing human creatures inhabiting the planet. The ravaging of the peoples and places of the planet is directly related to the artificial maintenance of the economic sphere as the highest power.

       People and land and natural resources are not commodities, we have not been created for the market. The market economy has never been as pristine as economic conceptions would indicate. Economics cannot be meaningfully discussed without addressing its relation to socio-political life. The American Dream is a lie. Despite the widespread belief in the United States that each of us is just around the corner from being rich, this nation has markedly less actual social mobility than European countries like Germany, Denmark, or Norway. The American Dream has been built on the backs of slave labor, dependent on continued preservation of desperation to keep wages down and people willing to work for next to nothing, and it is already being replaced by the European Dream. We are in the "jaws of death," productivity continues to rise and real wages continue to fall. This is not an aspect of China's that we want to be emulating. The two party stranglehold of political power has for all intents and purposes successfully curtailed real democratic change.

       Our species is in a race with itself the stakes of which have truly never been higher. If current trends continue a middle ground will grow less feasible, and we will be dependent on the fulfillment of the singularity hypothesis to avoid one apocalyptic scenario for the possibility of several other technologically oriented apocalyptic scenarios. Be that as it may, a potential apocalypse is better than a certain one. But there are very serious problems with letting a small elite agenda maintain control in the transition to the trans- and post-human future. Just as technology gives everyone more power as it reaches everyone, it gives a disproportionate amount of power, at least temporarily, to those who wield new technologies first. If technological development is truly on an exponential curve, the point will inevitably come in a caste society that those in power will achieve first the technological capability to hold the rest of humanity at their whim. The technological issues are really a known, unknown unknown. As we approach the singularity the number of black swan events will approach infinity. For all I know super-human intelligence will save humanity. Whether immanently or externally, by augmented human or by robotic AI, we cannot predict, and any combination of things seems within the realm of possibility

       First we have to survive the current headlong rush collective suicide via the destruction of the biosphere's life support systems. In both cases (the current global crisis and the singularity), it seems the likelihood of survival would increase if power became as decentralized and robust as possible without diminishing the possibility for swift, practical, and unified action; the only form of governance that I could imagine fulfilling this seemingly impossible role would be something along the lines of a wiki style government (or wikigovernment), made possible for the first time by technological advances.

    I apologize to everyone for the lack of organization.,dwp_uuid=ae1104cc-f82e-11dd-aae8-000077b07658.html (paid membership required)

    two books i appreciated and realized i want to share them more. i highly recommend the intro's available below.,M1,M1

    Since I was recommending so many things already I thought I'd add a few books to the list.
    The Varieties of Scientific Experience - Carl Sagan
    Fooled By Randomness - Nassim Taleb
    Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity - Roy Rappaport
    The Demon-Haunted World - Carl Sagan
    The Feeling of What Happens - Antonio Damasio
    The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers - Paul Kennedy
    Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond
    Philosophy in the Flesh - Mark Johnson & George Lakoff
    The Blank Slate - Steven Pinker
    Atheism: A Reader - edited by S.T. Joshi

    Thursday, May 7th, 2009
    2:51 am
    critical look at The Ethics of Belief
    I agree very heartily with Clifford’s argument that founding a belief on insufficient evidence is unethical. I furthermore think that the claim does not require modification because it is not only irrational to choose to be irrational but also unethically irresponsible to choose to be so.
    The ethical import of credulity does not primarily lie at the scale of the individual. The practical ethical implications of the beliefs of one individual marooned on a deserted island are few and in the human realm extend no further than that individual. However, in general as a social species we live in communities and as such our beliefs and their resultant actions directly influence those around as. Clifford illustrates this in a key passage below:

    “And no one man's belief is in any case a private matter which concerns himself alone. Our lives our guided by that general conception of the course of things which has been created by society for social purposes. Our words, our phrases, our forms and processes and modes of thought, are common property, fashioned and perfected from age to age; an heirloom which every succeeding generation inherits as a precious deposit and a sacred trust to be handled on to the next one, not unchanged but enlarged and purified, with some clear marks of its proper handiwork. Into this, for good or ill, is woven every belief of every man who has speech of his fellows. A [sic] awful privilege, and an awful responsibility, that we should help to create the world in which posterity will live.”

    It is our duty to our community and to posterity to combat credulity. A credulous society more easily has the wool pulled over its eyes to everyone’s detriment. I recall reading of a study that correlated the act of reading with the ability to think critically; it was in the context of an article pointing out that readership has been on decline in this country. There are too many people whose only source of news is television (I see mainstream media consolidation as a serious public harm). Immediately after the 2004 election someone did a study that showed a correlation between being factually incorrect on a number of issues and being a Bush voter (issues like whether there was a connection between 9/11 and Iraq etc.). In an academic community it can be easy to be unaware of how credulous so much of America has become. I am amused/saddened that people can recall the Watergate scandal in which the scope of crimes committed—crimes that led to the resignation of the President—pale in comparison to the crimes of the Bush administration and yet Bush remained in office (not to mention the illegal wars of aggression).

    There are literally countless instances in which humanity has suffered because people “knew” they were right without a doubt and without the requirement of evidence. Every holy war serves as an example of the results of belief on insufficient evidence because the only way to resolve disputes when evidence and reason are considered suspect is with force. It is absolutely not a coincidence that the dark ages were so markedly religious.

    It is tragic that so many people have so little conception of the harm that credulity has caused and continued to cause, and so little understanding of the benefits the world has reaped from science and the technology it spawns. Within the past one hundred years the average lifespan in the U.S. has increased by 50%. Even further under the radar for most people are the positive social changes that have been wrought because of an improved understanding of the human species as religion continues to lose its grip on most of the western world. Just hearing about the Stanley Milgram obedience to authority experiment makes people more likely to challenge what they are told.

    To take to heart Clifford’s summary, “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence,” provides a healthy dose of skepticism. And just as importantly it eventually helps to illustrate the limits of knowledge. The danger is not only in having incorrect beliefs/opinions but also in the certainty in which these ideas are entertained. I imagine suicide bombers must feel pretty certain in their beliefs.

    Had Clifford lived to do it, I am sure he would have amply defended himself from William James’ criticism. First, Clifford does not preclude of from entertaining hypotheses. It is a false dichotomy to say that the choice is between believing nothing or entertaining possible falsehoods. Be that as it may, William James argues in section VII that rather than believe nothing he would rather be duped repeatedly in the hope each time that he’s been blessed with knowledge. I would argue that each time William James or anyone holds an incorrect belief, in doing so they make it less likely that they will be able to recognize a different hypothesis or theory that better aligns itself with the evidence. In fact, contrary to the implication that beliefs often cycle, this tendency is so strong that there is a saying that science progresses one death at a time. As the rate of technological development increases it becomes more salient and the ability to change our society to fit the world more important. To reiterate then one of the primary benefits of Clifford at James’ expense, it is not solely the content of belief that matters, but the rigidity with which it is held. The survival of the human race might some day hinge on the extent of flexibility society allows.
    12:27 am
    Global Government
    There are important ideas about global government that need to be debated.

    I am wondering what objections there are to the world's resources being held in trust for the entire human species. I think it would immediately address the alarming headlong rush toward self-destruction that the species as a whole is directed (via the destruction of the biosphere). A global natural resources trust could be very compatible with a market system. For example, just as each Alaskans receive an annual check from the state's oil royalty investment (link below), each adult human around the world could receive royalties for the globe's natural resources (oil, coal, natural gas, minerals, etc.) from the global government. Of course global resources controlled by a single power must be democratically overseen, and its governance absolutely protected from corruption.

    I think that it is possible for a type of governance to satisfy the anarchist's desire for freedom, and the socialist's desire for social justice. A possible form could be some kind of wiki-government. It would be the ultimate direct democracy, could potentially scale to any size, and is very amenable to highly independently localized and distributed decision-making. Of course the devil is in the details (but is truly technologically possible at a global scale for the first time in history). The system would have to be organized to be able to reach actionable consensus, but if preliminary organizational issues can be adequately addressed, it has the potential structurally to be the most flexible, and quickest reacting (not to mention democratic and just) form of government.

    I would argue that it should be founded on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (link below), although I would argue that Article 16 be amended to respect the rights of all humans regardless of sexual orientation. The principles would ensure that no single ideology, religion, morality, are privileged over other conceptions of the good, and the maximization of both positive (freedom to) liberty and negative (freedom from) liberty.

    It might be legitimate to be concerned about the possibility in the above conception of losing the right to vote, however, if designed properly it would actually be efficient at increasing its own efficiency to maximize democracy and effective decision making, and as such would be very likely to maintain the use of voting in relevant cases. That said, not voting at all doesn't concern me because every human adult would have the right to directly address any and every debate in a direct democracy (significantly more democratic and resistant to corruption than representative (voting) democracy or any further centralized decision making regime).

    Alaskan oil:

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
    Tuesday, May 5th, 2009
    12:31 am
    On Nietzsche's "The madman"
        When Nietzsche’s madman proclaims the death of God, first he is claiming specifically that belief in God as traditionally understood is superlatively untenable and more broadly, all absolutes and all teleologies are unfounded, unsupportable human constructs. Where others looked at the world around them and saw purpose and order, Nietzsche saw flux and chaos, in the midst of which the human species, driven by the needs of survival, projects an individually internally constructed yet communally agreed upon cosmic order onto the external world as a function of the utility to “the herd” that the grand illusion provides. The innumerable consequences of the death of God in philosophy, science, and morality were thus directly in proportion to their dependence on absolutes or the absolute, and any human attempts past, present or future are doomed to failure by presupposing purpose and order in a fundamentally purposeless void.

        The death of God corresponded with the death of universal morality for Nietzsche. Morality must be self-generated if it is to be authentic because no other foundation for morality exists in this view. Nietzsche’s madman asks the crowd, “What were we doing when we unchained this Earth from its sun?”(141). Moral prescriptions and injunctions that were assumed to be universal are really no more than the preferences and needs of the larger social grouping or “herd” reified and made instinctual by their survival through the generations. This leads to Nietzsche to the position that eventually when the words of the “madman” are truly ready to be received by the population at large that the loss of the foundation for a moral consensus will lead people to abandon their traditional moralities and cease their self-sacrifice in the name of the “herd.” Yet, the “madman” is not frivolous in questioning, “Aren’t we wandering as if through an endless nothing,”(142) nor in repeatedly invoking a sense of weightlessness and falling (141). Nietzsche seems to have serious concerns about the death of God leading to nihilism and despair, for what will people find worth living for without the ability to honestly find a foundation to moor their hopes and dreams for the future, or to believe that there can be any sense of purpose in life at all? Nietzsche’s response to this risk of nihilism is captured in his allegory, “The heaviest weight” which, to summarize briefly, asks us to speculate on the possibility of every detail of our lives being exactly repeated infinitely without any possibility of change. “The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over again and again—and you with it, you mote of dust!”(148). It seems that this thought experiment seeks to provide weight where there was none before. Just as the death of God destroys teleology, so does “the heaviest weight” in the clear absence of the possibility of any final apotheosis or goal that an individual could build his life toward. However, instead of nihilism for Nietzsche, to the contrary this story brings to the foreground the need to affirm every moment of life, for “how benevolent would you have to become toward yourself and toward life in order to long for nothing more ardently than for this ultimate eternal sanction and seal?”(148).

        Philosophy would seem to be similarly eviscerated by the death of God. Every philosophy at all related to teleology or the absolute already in existence could easily be considered just as much a part of the carcass of “divine rot”(142), and every new goal- oriented or absolute dependent construction would be mere “shadows” or reflections of the still decaying God, and the believers just as believers of traditional moralities would just be carrying the past that much further. Nietzsche considers the role philosophical justifications play in the lives of respective individuals to be like a “blessing” and, in light of the death of God, enjoins us all to create our own philosophies(144). We need, “new philosophers! The moral Earth is also round . . .[and] has its antipodes . . . [that] have their right to existence! . . . There is still another world to discover . . . To the ships, you philosophers!(144).

        Even science is not spared as Nietzsche purports that it rests on a presupposition exposed to be a “metaphysical faith,”(151) viz., “an unconditional will to truth”(150). And even questions cause and effect, “An intellect that saw cause and effect as a continuum, not with our sort of arbitrary division and fragmentation, an intellect that saw the flux of events, would throw aside the concept of cause and effect and deny all determination” (137).

        However, if we must affirm life, we must value it, and therefore not all philosophies are equally justifiable. On what grounds? What implicit value does life have? The fact that our species is hurtling toward self-destruction brings this question into sharp relief. Consensus though, is approachable. Science is a process in a critical feedback loop that produces the broadest possible consensus of rational thought in creating the best approximation of reality possible (and only approximations of reality are possible as already mathematically proven);  even if science requires an implicit will to truth, so be it, as it is the only route to the survival of the species (the will to truth then becomes synonymous with the will to live), thus providing the grounds for the existence of any agents to affirm life in whatever way each chooses. How presumptuous  to allow the destruction of the possibility of any further opinion on any matter, by allowing the destruction of the human species  by not recognizing the likelihood, or even necessity, of appreciating that to affirm each moment of life is to affirm all moments of life, is to affirm the conditions that make life possible (the human species remains the only known entity even arguably capable of conscious agency. If I am overlooking recent research into other mammals, the point would remain as our self-destruction is likely to annihilate with it countless other species, as presaged in the growing consensus that we are living through a mass extinction, and the almost complete “clear-cutting” of the oceans).

        As morality is dependent on the survival of moral agents, morality as such must affirm science even in its perpetually limited form. In the possible case that impending doom is avoided, the fundamentally flawed nature of humans and thus their beliefs (especially on big questions that require much broader correspondence with evidence to verify its truth) behooves the species to protect the sanctity of each consciousness from the imposition of belief by force, and reject belief systems grounded upon “revelation” that by definition/design refuse to be subject to the constraints of evidence and dissent and therefore provide cover for the perpetual breeding of humans incapable of recognizing the fundamentally tentative nature of all knowledge, but especially claims to knowledge incapable of providing evidence, humans that by having been refused the opportunity to approach an objective common ground reality (in the way they were raised), must claim membership to a belief systems that arrogates absolute truth to itself and thus necessarily relegates all other humans to a lower moral class (if they are regarded as human at all), inevitably promulgating the disrespect and death of innocents (the apogee of violation of consciousnesses, viz., their respective dissipations).

    page numbers refer to Existentialism: Basic Writings: Second Edition

    Monday, May 4th, 2009
    2:48 pm
    direct excerpt from Nietzsche's The Gay Science

    Hurray for physics!
    ----How many people really understand how to observe? And among the few who do understand it--how many observes themselves? "One is always furthest from oneself"--all who try the reins know this, to their own discontent. And the saying, "Knowing yourself," in the mouth of a god and spoken to human beings, is virtually malicious.

    But nothing better indicates that self-observation is hopeless than the way in which almost everyone speaks about the essence of a moral action--this quick, willing, convinced, talkative way, with its look, its smile, its likeable eagerness! One seems to want to say to you, "But my dear friend, that's exactly my specialty! You're asking the one who's qualified to answer; it so happens that there's nothing I'm wiser about than this. So: when a human being judges, 'that's what's right', concludes, 'therefore it must happen!' and then does what has thus been recognized as right and designated as necessary--that's when the essence of the action is moral!"

    But, my friend, you are telling me about three actions there rather than one. Judging--for instance, "That's what's right"--is also an action; can't judgments already be made in both a moral and in an immoral way? Why do you take this, and precisely this, to be right?

    "Because my conscience tells me so. The conscience never speaks immorally; in fact it is what first determines what should be moral!"

    But why do you listen to the voice of your conscience? And how much right do you have to consider such a judgment true and non-deceptive? As regards this faith--is there no conscience anymore? Don't you know anything about an intellectual conscience? A conscience behind your conscience"? Your judgment "that's what's right" has a prehistory in your drives, inclinations, experiences, and lack of experience. "How did this judgment arise?," you must ask, and still further, "What really drives me to lend an ear to it?" Your can lend an ear to its commands like a soldier responding to the command of his officer. Or like a woman who loves the one who is commanding. Or like a flatterer and coward who is afraid of the commander. Or like a dummy who follows because he has nothing to say against doing so. In short, there are a hundred ways in which you can lend an ear to your conscience--that you perceive something as right, in other words--may be caused by the fact that you never reflected on yourself, and are blindly accepting what has been designated as right to you since childhood. The cause may also be that what you call your duty has brought you bread and honors up to now--it counts as "right" for you because it seems to you to be your "condition of existence" (and that you have a right to existence appears irrefutable to you!). The steadiness of your moral judgment could still turn out to be a proof precisely of your personal misery or impersonality; your "moral strength" could have its source in your stubbornness--or in your inability to catch sight of new ideals! And, briefly put: if you had thought more subtly, observed better, and learned more, you would at all events no longer call this "duty" and "conscience" of yours duty and conscience. The insight into how, in each case, moral judgments have arisen to begin with would spoil these lofty words for you--just as other lofty words such as "sin," "salvation of the soul," and "redemption" have already been spoiled for you.

    And don't talk to me now about the categorical imperative, my friend! This term tickles my ear and I have to laugh, despite your ever so earnest presence. It makes me think of old Kant, who, as punishment for having stolen away with "the thing in itself"--another very laughable business!--had the "categorical imperative" steal upon him, and with it in his heart, strayed back to "God," "soul," "freedom," and "immortality," like a fox that strays back into his cage--and it was his strength and cleverness that had broken open this cage!--What? You admire the categorical imperative within you? This "steadiness" of your so-called moral judgment? This "absoluteness" of the feeling, "all others must judge as I do in this case?" Admire instead your selfishness in this! And the blindness, pettiness, and unpretentiousness of your selfishness! For it is selfishness to perceive one's own judgment as a universal law. And it is a blind, petty, and unpretentious sefishness to boot, because it betrays the fact that you have not yet discoverd yourself, have not yet created your own, ownmost ideal for yourself--for this could never be the ideal of another, not to mention of all, all!

    All who still judge, "everyone would have to act this way in this case," have not yet progressed five steps in self-knowledge. Otherwise they would know that identical actions neither exist nor can exist--that every action that has been done, was done in a completely unique and irretrievable way, and that the same will hold for every future action; that all prescriptions for action relate only to the crass exterior (even the most interior and sublt prescriptions of all moralities up to now); that with these prescriptions, we may well attain an appearance of sameness, but only an appearance; that every action, whether you look into it or look back at it, is and remains an impenetrable thing; that our opinions about "good," "noble," "great," can never be proved by our actions, because every action is unknowable; that certainly our opinions, valuations, and tabes of goods are among the most powerful gears in teh clockwork of our actions, but that in every particular case the law of their mechanism remains unprovable.

    Let us confine ourselves, then, to purifying our opinions and valuations, and to creating our own new tables of goods--but we no longer want to brood over the "moral value of our actions!" Yes, my friends! As regards all tthe moral blather of some people about others, it's time to feel sick. Sitting in moral judgment should be contrary to our taste! Let's leave this blather and this bad taste to those who have nothing else to do except drag the past a bit farther through time, and who themselves are never the present--in other words, the many, the majority! We, however, want to become who we are--the new, the unique, the incomparable, those who give themselves the law, those who create themselves! And for this, we must become the best learners and discoverers of everything lawful and necessary in the world; we must be physicists so that we can be creators in this sense--while up to now, all valuations and ideals were built on ignorance of physics or in contradiction to it. And thus: hurray for physics! And a still bigger cheer for what forces us to it--our honesty!

    Monday, April 13th, 2009
    4:18 am
    my criticism of Kierkegaard’s description of the movement and leap of faith
    Kierkegaard (hereafter K.) takes up the gauntlet on the side of voluntarism in its long-standing debate against intellectualism.  Most if not all of K.’s arguments proceed from the assumption of the existence of God , and to the extent to which this assumption is granted, he is fairly convincing in his aim to show that the only viable way to knowing God and thus living an authentic life is through subjective passion.
        K. claims that System corresponds with conclusiveness, but is diametrically opposed to existence, as by definition existing is ongoing.  He foresees an infinite regress in the reflection required by System, such that objectivity is incapable of ending reflection.  Therefore, necessarily there is a gap that requires a leap.  Systematic thinking is necessarily unending by requiring a never-ending series of systematic thinkers who are able, respectively, to include past thinkers conclusively, but never themselves. For K., this chain can only be completed by someone, “who himself is outside existence and yet in existence, who in his eternity is forever concluded and yet includes existence within himself,” viz., God.
        K. uses the bible story of Abraham to illustrate the importance and meaning of faith. K. assumes that the will of God, arbitrary or not, is good a priori; this leads to K.’s paradox of faith exemplified by Abraham. Abraham’s blind obedience to God’s will shown by Abraham unquestioningly proceeding in following God’s commandment to use his only son Isaac as a holocaust directly contradicts the moral or ethical.
    “For faith is this paradox, that the particular is higher than the universal—yet in such a way, be it observed, that the movement repeats itself, and that consequently the individual, after having been in the universal, now as the particular isolates himself as higher than the universal.”
        There is no way out of this paradox as it has been defined because any sign of reluctance, or, if Abraham had been allowed by God to carry out the execution, any sign of repentance would be turning back to the universal (the ethical).
        The fallout from this line of reasoning are the following claims: the truth is on the side of one whose, “infinite passion of his need of God, feels an infinite concern for his own relationship to God,” as opposed to those who attempt to seek God objectively ; one postulating God is necessitated by the embrace of God with “the ‘category of despair’ (faith),” itself resultant of one’s “dialectical contradiction bring[ing] his passion to the point of despair,” ; subjectivity becomes the truth  because the passion of the infinite is the truth and this is precisely subjectivity, and therefore subjectivity alone is decisive, and seeking objectivity is a fool’s errand.
        I find K.’s final position to be thoroughly contemptible and delusional at best and there is a certain irony in his reasoned argument for unreasoned belief. However, he makes a couple of insights. He anticipates Gödel’s absolute destruction of the possibility of a complete system by mathematical proof.  He also fairly successfully argues against the possibility of an objective route to or proof of God.  And insofar as his goal was to argue for an ideology that facilitates a fulfilling life, his route might very well be the quickest path for many, albeit at the expense of a higher risk of being unprepared for a rapidly changing world and a much higher risk of being factually incorrect about the universe. The rest of K.’s arguments completely collapse once the presumption of the existence of God is removed.
    For example, the supposed paradox of faith is clearly not a paradox at all in the absence of a divine presence; the particular is never higher than the universal, there never was a justified teleological suspension of the ethical, and all we witness in a case like Abraham’s is just as K. says we do in the absence of faith, viz. Abraham is a murderer. In modern cases where a parent hears the voice of God and murders their children, the murderer is locked up, and hopefully is given the mental treatment that they need. Other terms like infinite passion, can be recognized as the unfounded exaggerations they are.
        Should the presumption of God’s existence be so quickly dismissed? Absolutely. Evolutionary theory is a much more parsimonious explanation of biological diversity. Cosmology and physics have let us glimpse a universe orders of magnitude greater and more awe-inspiring than the puny world in the biblical. Modern science so clearly has much more tremendous explanatory power than any religious belief system claims, including the existence of religious belief itself, which has been successfully modeled epidemiologically, affected by direct manipulation of the brain, and even explained by evolutionary psychology as a group cohesion generating mechanism that helped some groups out compete others.
    The existence of God raises many more questions than it purports to answer. The origin of an incomprehensibly complex being actually existing like the Judeo-Christian god is a more difficult question to answer than the origin of the universe. Even simpler theories like the uncaused cause are internally inconsistent (if everything has a cause, so must the ‘first’ cause), and godly attributes like omnipotence are likewise internally inconsistent, i.e. could God heat up a burrito so hot that he couldn’t eat it?  Of course there are further problems to take issue with. Not the least of which is the inability of K.’s reliance on subjectivity to justifiably differentiate belief in Judeo-Christian god from any other belief system theistic or otherwise. However, the largest danger is the extent to which it inevitably feeds sectarian strife by eliminating the only common ground, viz., objectivity.

    Sources: discussion, Existentialism: Basic Writings, & Concluding Postscript, Part Two
    Monday, March 23rd, 2009
    6:17 am
    12:07 am
    this most important virtue?
            The question of what the most important virtue is for the times we live in could easily expand to book length—I would be surprised if several had not already been written. The keystone to this question, in these times, seems actually more likely to reside in the hopefully accurate perception of the times we live in. Our era is becoming increasingly characterized by uncertainty; I strongly feel that the investigation and evidence required to even approach a remotely, comfortably convincing elucidation of our times is significantly beyond the scope of this essay. That said there are several trends worth mentioning.
    The first and most obvious after relatively recent events, is the mounting pressure for a global realignment of political power. The United States has enjoyed disproportionate wealth and power, relative to the size of its population and resources, since World War II. There is a very strong historical correlation between the rise of economic strength and a following rise of political strength, followed by an equally strong historical correlation between the over-extension of military power to preserve its empire and the subsequent “passing of the torch” so to speak as a militarily top heavy economy sooner or later collapses. All political realignments following the collapse of empires are major. The current case however has the potential to be much too “exciting” for those living through it. First, for the first time in history the empire in question, namely the United States, has had a truly global empire and nearly hegemonic military, political and cultural power. Second, and much more importantly, the U.S. military—the true third rail in American politics—has expressly pursued policies with goal of preserving American power indefinitely through the development and use of the next generation of technological military advancement, euphemistically called “Full Spectrum Dominance,” including the use of untraceable laser weapons—already unofficially in use in places like Iraq—and the weaponization of space. If power is not largely relinquished voluntarily, like Great Britain did after WWII, the potential for disaster will increase dramatically, at the expense of the safety of the population of the entire planet.
    The second trend, has the theoretical potential to make the previous paragraph largely irrelevant. This is the exponential rate at which technology is developing. This trend has actually been mutually reinforcing with the previous trend through, but not limited to organization like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), funding a significant portion of research and development, especially in the cross-disciplinary field of artificial intelligence. Among technologies already developed are packs of robots designed to hunt down humans. Fortunately most technology trends are less explicitly ominous. Ray Kurzweil wrote an entire book, titled, The Singularity Is Near, about the “singularity,” the point beyond which absolutely nothing can be predicted, and the seemingly fantastical possibilities and dangers that the approaching technological explosion poses to the human species—including, but not limited to the eventual possibility of uploading brains onto a non-biological substrate, and the dangers of “gray goo” or self-replicating nanobots (recently popularized in the film The Day the Earth Stood Still). It is also important to remind ourselves in the shorter term that technological development can put more power in the hands of individuals, increasing risk by decreasing the threshold required to be reached before dangerous weapons are available. The other side of that coin is the ability to control more people from the very top. As a mini case study we can compare Nixon’s wiretapping scandal to the most recent Bush’s “wiretapping” of the entire country. To put it mildly, we live in uncertain times.
    The third trend, the most visible of the three, is the environmental destruction of the planet. Much has already been said, so I will only mention as a reminder that even if global warming were halted today, the mass extinction occurring today contributing to the growing threat to Earth’s life-support systems from the loss of biodiversity would continue.
    In returning to the philosophy at hand and choosing a virtue for our times, it IS NOT and exaggeration to say that the fate of the planet is at stake. Even during comparatively quaint time known as the cold war, the potential for the destruction of humanity and countless other species had already existed, evidenced by such fun/dire ideas like the doomsday clock. I emphasize these points to call attention to the fact that at the absolute minimum, as mentioned in a previous paper, the survival of morality (and therefore virtue of any kind) depends on the survival of agents capable of virtue, and at this stage we know of no other species up to the task. Now that we have finally set the stage, what do we mean by virtue and what if any virtue is up to the task?
    In studying Aristotle, we learn that the primary focus of virtue ethics is the character of the moral agent; neither the immediate consequences nor potential rules governing an act are emphasized. Virtue, like many other human traits and skills, is amenable to strengthening through repeated practice. Additionally, the virtuous life is one led in the rational and active pursuit of the strengthening of traits that allow and promote a healthy functioning with and within the community. Among the various virtues, “wisdom” is likely the only one up to the task.
    Aristotle explains that multiple ends exist that therefore we should try to find a final end by finding an end that is an end in itself and not instrumental to other ends (Aristotle ?). Aristotle like many performing similar thought experiments conclude that the final end and thus highest good is happiness and that all other ends are seen as ends in themselves and as means to happiness. Furthermore, as reason is considered a unique quality of humans (of course historically and unjustly only men), reason is the function of human life. In order to attain excellence and thereby happiness, humans must excel at acting according to reason. It is worth emphasizing that happiness in Aristotle’s thought can only be appreciated as a by-product of the virtuous life that we must aspire to directly. Despite the strong appeal portion of his argument has, and I do admit to its applicability throughout human history, I find it not only presumptuous but dangerous to value so highly, even if only indirectly, because survival of the community must be fundamental moral concern. Incidentally some recent psychological literature supports Aristotle’s claims that happiness can follow from virtue as happiness, in psychobiological literature at least, is coming to be seen as an expression of the inner state of the health of an organism. The problem may lie in the size of the community under question. The community in Aristotle’s time was incredibly small compared the global community of our times, and the difficulty in successfully creating, supporting and functioning in this new global community that much greater, requiring that much more judgment and that much more wisdom.
    Aristotle distinguishes between intellectual and moral virtue. The former learned primarily from teaching and requiring experience and time, the provision of which is supplied by laws in a just society. Moral virtue, on the other hand, is formed as previously noted through habituation (Aristotle 416). Bad habits predict bad behavior, good habits good behavior, and both compound upon themselves. “Not by seeing frequently or hearing frequently do we acquire the sense of seeing or hearing, on the contrary, because we have the senses we make use of them. .  . . But the virtues we get by first practicing them, as we do in the arts” (Aristotle 421) Therefore without continual events over an extended time it is impossible to become virtuous, and by the similar reasoning, it is unlikely to become excessively vicious or corrupt as well. Moral inquiry under Aristotle then is not to “know what virtue is but how to become good” (Aristotle 417). A descriptive understanding of virtue ethics is clearly inadequate because the construction of moral prescriptions that result in the increase of personal good is the true goal. I admire Aristotle for following these arguments by saying that in ethical thought and reasoning exactitude is impossible and we can only know an approximation of the good, so moral reasoning must be considered more of an art than a science, and leads eventually to approximation using notions of the mean between extremes. For example temperance lies between the “insensitive” person and the “licentious.” We should be especially wary of our natural bias in favor of our own pleasure and comfort. And as most people would intuitively expect the mean can very by individual. Even limiting ourselves to the context of Aristotle’s time wisdom is incredibly valuable in making the tough choices and judgment calls required in so many moral situations.
    Consider for example the Bishop Bienvenu of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable, admired for his benevolence. His benevolence, was clearly a form of wisdom. Wisdom, is really not only the most important virtue, it is the virtue whence all other virtues derive their value. Consider Frankena’s two favored virtues, justice and benevolence. Each derives its value from being used well, and wisdom provides the judgment necessary to keep the virtues meaningful, strong, and successful in the ultimate moral purpose of promoting the survival of our species.
    Despite the preeminence I feel the virtue of wisdom requires and deserves, I very strongly agree with Frankena’s assessment regarding complementary nature of a humble deontology and virtues to drive, support, and reinforce positive moral growth from the level of the individual up. “I am inclined to think that principles without traits are impotent and traits without principles are blind” (467) I said “humble” deontology because I also agree with Frankena that, “Morality must recognize various sorts of excuses and extenuating circumstances” (468). These include the possibilities of a certain duty requiring an extraordinary sacrifice, a required action being unclear, and similarly a moral agent in the dark about relevant information.
    Frankena again hits the nail on the head  of morality. “All it can really insist on, then, except in critical cases, is that we develop and manifest fixed dispositions to find out what the right thing is and to do it if possible. In this sense a person must “be this” rather than “do this.” But it must be remembered that “being” involves trying to “do.” Being without doing, like faith without works, is dead” (Frankena 468).
    Ross in his dissection of Kant’s stricter deontology was onto something when he said that all we can expect and hope for is, “fulfilling a higher duty after forming a considered opinion (never more)” (Ross 336). However, Nagel is correct when he says, “We judge people for what they actually do or fail to do, not just for what they would have done if circumstances had been different” (384). Like Nagel, we have to come to grips with what we are morally judged for, and realize that wisdom is the best and most likely avenue in the effective elaboration of other virtues like benevolence and justice.
        The best part about wisdom as the most important virtue of our times, besides it being required to save the world, is that all it requires to really gain a foothold, is a public push or ad campaign emphasizing the tentative nature of knowledge. When people start becoming comfortable with wisdom being a life-long and accessible pursuit, it could become self-reinforcing trend. I would like to end this paper on a positive note, but there are some serious concerns that for the time-being remain unaddressed. Most of these concerns revolve around the nature of agency itself and the extent to which modern neuroscience may or may not be indicating that consciousness itself and hence all of rationality might function in the brain as a special kind of sense perception of the world. Increasingly research is indicating the extraordinary extent to which seemingly conscious decisions have been made before subjects think they consciously made said decisions. This seems to indicate that many so-called conscious decisions are actually -subconscious and our conscious awareness is only being informed of the decision. Interestingly this actually underscores the importance of virtue ethics as it already since Aristotle recognized the importance of habits, and the work it requires to change them. Furthermore, these findings have very interesting repercussions in the discussion of agency in general and in the context of freedom. It seems the limits of our freedom are not external to our bodies, and therefore do not limit the autonomy of our human entity, but that it is consciousness itself that has been shown to be increasingly more limited than traditionally expected. All of this emphatically underscores the need to have the best judgments possible, in whatever limited fashion our existence provides.
    12:03 am
    on Kant's Categorical Imperative
        Kant’s formulations of the categorical imperative are based on his three propositions of morality, his desire to construct a “pure moral philosophy”—one independent of empirical circumstance—and the combined importance of good will and reason to guide it. The third proposition of morality, encompassing the previous two, is expressed as, “Duty is the necessity of acting from respect for the law” (Kant 317). This follows from action lacking moral import in the absence of duty, and in moral worth being derived from the “principle of volition” and not its realization or repercussions (the first and second propositions respectively) (Kant 314-317).
        The first formulation of the categorical imperative, viz., act only on the principle or maxim that you can will that it should become a universal law, arises  as Kant’s conception of duty requires a non-empirical foundation. Similarly, to arrive at the second formulation of the categorical imperative Kant leads us through: a rational being is an end in and of himself; all rational beings are ends; these ends are objective not subjective because otherwise they would be conditional and disallow a supreme practical principle as nothing would possess absolute worth; therefore all persons must be treated as ends and never merely as means (Kant 326-327). Hence, “The Kingdom of Ends,” is the logical conclusion, in which in Kant’s vision unites the first two formulations of the Imperative in “a systematic union of rational beings by common objective laws . . .” (328).
        In the centuries that have followed numerous objections have accumulated. To begin with, Kant offers no way to resolve conflicts between duties. Frankena argues that despite Kant’s claim that promises can never be broken, it seems clear that one should break a promise under some conditions (Frankena 331). “If I have promised to meet a friend at a particular time for some trivial purpose, I should certainly think myself justified in breaking my engagement if by doing so I could prevent a serious accident or bring relief to the victims of one” (Ross 335). Frankena also points out that the categorical imperative can be satisfied on prudential grounds in cases like willing the universality of honesty.
        Ross similarly realizes that in reality extenuating circumstances do exist in addition to conflicting duties, and the best people can do is to fulfill what they see as the higher duty “after forming a considered opinion”. (Ross 366) Ross like Kant is a universalist; unlike Kant he is not an absolutist. “The intrinsic value of prima facie duties is not dependent on circumstance, but their application is.” He argues that there is no justification for assuming that in all circumstances the reason for our duty should be identical. If  in one case duty arises because of a promise made and in another to right a wrong, if neither reason is reducible to the other—as Ross thinks upon reflection—one cannot a priori assume the possibility of reducibility (339-340)
        Further criticism came from Nagel in his discussion of moral luck. Despite the intuitive appeal and desire to hold people only responsible for their will and actions, our actions' moral quality upon examination seem to be significantly affected by external factors. Nagel describes four kinds of this pernicious morally contaminating luck: the result of action, the causal circumstance, the situational circumstance, and personal character. For example, “however jewel-like the good will may be in its own right, there is a morally significant difference between rescuing someone from a burning building and dropping him from a twelfth-story window while trying to rescue him” (Nagel 378).
        It is very common in the context of difficult choices for the result to be only partially forecast. A specific type of analysis is possible beforehand, however a second relies on the outcome, because that is what finally determines what has actually been done (Nagel 381). “Someone who launches a violent revolution against an authoritarian regime knows that if he fails he will be responsible for much suffering that is in vain, but if he succeeds he will be justified by the outcome” (Nagel 381). Strangely, holding people broadly responsible for their actions “amounts to holding them responsible for the contributions of fate as well as their own” (382).
    “If one cannot be responsible for consequences of one’s acts due to factors beyond one’s control, or for antecedents of one’s acts that are properties of temperament not subject to one’s will, or for the circumstances that pose one’s moral choices, then how can one be responsible even for the stripped-down acts of the will itself, if they are the product of antecedent circumstance outside of the will’s control?” (384)
        Despite these arguments that seem to make the self or agent all but disappear, a purely external view seems less tenable because regardless of the extent of responsibility we have, or lack thereof, for our existence, available choices, temperament, circumstances, and associated consequences, we do not cease to be ourselves and these acts are still meaningfully ours. (386-387)
    By including moral luck in our judgment, and thereby ensnaring the consequences when conceive of what people do, we are forced to accept that we are pieces of this world. Unfortunately (or fortunately), moral luck cannot be grasped in the absence of “an account of the internal conception of agency and its special connection with the moral attitudes as opposed to other types of value.” (387)
    Nagel’s criticisms, in a significant way, do much more to undermine Kant’s moral theory than those exhibited by Ross and Frankena. I imagine Kant would respond to Frankena’s assertion that the categorical imperative can be satisfied by prudence, with an explanation of the duty-bound foundation and nature of the categorical imperative. However, I am more sympathetic to Frankena’s further criticism remarking that Kant does not provide elucidation on how to differentiate which questions are moral or not. Moreover, I support his subsequent hypothesis that what Kant really meant to say, and could more justifiably say only “holding maxims one cannot will to be universal laws are immoral or wrong to act on” (Frankena 332). So, actually it is only permissible to act on principles that one can will to be universal, and that duty can only arise when one cannot will the opposite (Frankena 332).
    I would also expect Kant’s response to Ross’s criticism of the Kant’s a priori assertions requiring the ultimate reducibility of the causes of all duties to the categorical imperative that, the categorical imperative really does encompass both keeping promises and righting previous wrongs as both could be willed to be universal maxims. However, Ross’s point remains criticizing the foundation of Kant’s theory on an a priori conception of pure reason and its supposed necessity. If it is indeed a necessity, Kant might only have ended up showing that moral laws as he defines them are impossible.
    Returning to Nagel, there are really too many questions surrounding the issue of agency to not think likely that Kant’s strict conception of rationality has not stood the test of time. Thus without a central support pillar the entire structure is floating in the  clouds. Ross put it nicely: “loyalty to the facts is worth more than a symmetrical architectonic or hastily reached simplicity.” (339)
    Saturday, March 21st, 2009
    10:46 pm
    on michael massing's The Fix
    Despite an unfortunate policy history, “The problem,” in the context of illicit drugs, although perceived independently on the street and in Washington, has been defined surprisingly similarly when considering expert opinion, and shockingly differently when considering political leadership. The recurrent disconnect has been largely driven by short-term political considerations consistently at the expense of the common good.
    Hard-core users consume three quarters of the drugs imported into this country and are responsible for a significant portion of the crime related to drugs. Many seek help in changing their destructive behavior, but feel the repercussions of the supply of treatment severely outstripped by the demand for treatment. These are people that need help. But Bruce Carnes as head of Office of National Drug Control Policy’s budget and planning once said of the intent of the ONDCP that, “It was not directed at hard-core addicts. They consumed the vast bulk of the drugs, and contributed a significant part of the crime, but they weren’t the main thereat to your kids becoming drug users.” (199)
    For whatever reason, maybe because the Parent Movement had captured this agency, the ONDCP clearly cared more about whether kids smoked marijuana than whether hard-core addicts got the help they needed. Apparently as far as the ONDCP was concerned suburban parents are more American, because addicts according to the Carnes formulation are not viewed as constituents.
        Under Nixon, when a serious heroin epidemic was first noticed and dealt with, Nixon pragmatically expanded treatment. Jerome Jaffe, who had been so successful in creating a treatment program for Illinois, was called to do the same for the country. Jerome Jaffe explained that the goal for a national program should be “to make treatment available to all heroin addicts so that no one had to commit a crime to support a habit because they cannot get treatment.”(111) The Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (SAODAP), was very successful, and for the first time since national crime statistics started to be gathered the crime rate dropped. The treatment program was not run in isolation; it had been supported relatively successful efforts to combat the French Connection, a major heroin trafficking route. Successive administrations learned the wrong lesson and started emphasizing law enforcement over treatment. The Reagan administration contributed to this dire trend.
    “Drug addicts, by contrast [to agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency], had few friends in Washington, and so the treatment budget would be cut a staggering 25 percent. Taking into account the inflation-driven declines of the Carter years, this amounted to a 43 percent reduction in federal treatment funds in just a few years. In real terms, federal spending on treatment was less than one-fourth what it had been in 1974.”(161)
    Jerome Jaffe had had only a couple of years to create SAODAP from scratch, and had worked to make it as lean and efficient as possible. Looking back he said, “If you take a program that is adequate, but minimally adequate, and cut into it, then the net effect is it’s inadequate, and that’s what happened.”(180) Let us be clear, “In 1980 . . . the government’s Drug Abuse Warning Network had recorded 7,450 drug-related visits to hospital emergency rooms; by 1988, the number had reached 113,000—a fifteen-fold increase.” (190) Annual cocaine-related deaths increased more than thirteen-fold, and pregnant drug-use, drug-related HIV transmission, and drug-related homicides all increased dramatically. Furthermore this indicates the brazen falsehood of the gateway theory because casual use continued to drop over the same time period.
    The optimism finally generated later by Clinton because of his pro-treatment statements and both his drug czars’ Lee Brown’s and Barry McCaffrey’s respective initially pro-treatment positions was repeatedly dashed. Things might have been different especially under Brown, but a slight up tick in high school marijuana use in a policy climate still primed by the Parent Movement to be sensitive to suburban voters at the expense of public health, doomed any fundamental readjustment of drug policy.
    “One in every four twelfth-graders was getting smashed on regular basis. The health risks from this seemed much greater than anything associated with illegal drugs. To point this out, however, would have been politically inconvenient, for the alcohol industry was a major backer of the Democratic Party. And so, in a glaring omission, the Ann Arbor report did not even mention alcohol and the dangers it posed to young people, reserving its ire exclusively for illicit drugs.” (219)

    Interestingly, marijuana use in high school was only half of what it was at its peak in the seventies, and legal drugs—alcohol and tobacco—indisputably have a larger health impact. Jerome Jaffe is quoted by Massing, “Why is it, that when marijuana kills a neuron in the cortex or the bone marrow, it is so much more fascinating than when alcohol kills a thousand cells or tobacco causes cancer in those who only inhale the smoke others breathe out?” (156)
    The Helen Ingram and Ann Schneider policy model is helpful here. Drug addicts have a negative public image and very weak political power. It is horrifyingly easy for them to be shortchanged. The category addicts fit into in this model is even designated “Deviants.” Additionally, there are public health costs to this position for the public at large because drug addicts are a significant vector for disease into the primary population.
    American national drug policy, as described in The Fix, captures much of what needs to be criticized and changed, but I do not think that Michael Massing goes far enough in his policy proposals in the long term for several reasons.
     “Since the mid-1970’s, when Ford and Carter administrations tried to squelch the Mexican drug trade, there had accumulated a vast storehouse of think-tank studies, internal government documents, General Accounting Office reports, intelligence assessments, newspaper articles, and congressional reports chronicling the failure of the U.S. efforts to seal the nation’s borders.” (223)
        At this late stage people are starting to invoke Einstein’s definition of insanity of continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results. Actions abroad have only had temporary results and are very expensive. Massing cites a study showing “treatment was seven times more cost-effective than domestic law enforcement, ten times more effective than interdiction, and twenty-three times more effective than attacking drugs at their source.”(50)
        In light of evidence like this Massing’s recommendation that we raise the investment on treatment at the expense of military/police efforts to 50/50 ratio, and even eventually to the original Nixonian ratio of 2/3 treatment 1/3 enforcement, all seems rather silly. However spending 100 percent on treatment, even in the absence of legalization is the most economical and effective choice.
    Morgan and Zimmer are quoted on page 33, “Although there are risks involved in using crack, they have been consistently exaggerated. . . . most of the problems associated with crack are products of the social context in which it arose and is used, not its pharmacological powers. . . .” Massing could very well be correct in criticizing what he calls “revisionists” and their underestimate of the pharmacological effects of hard drugs, but his primary argument against legalization is to claim that alcohol consumption increased upon the end of prohibition.
    “By the greatest majority of indicators,  the biggest drops in alcohol consumption and alcohol problems actually came before national prohibition went into effect. Those drops continued for about the first two years of Prohibition and then alcohol consumption began to rise. By 1926, most of the problems were worse than they had been before Prohibition went into effect and there were a number of new problems -- such as a drinking epidemic among children -- that had not been there before.” (
        At the very least, it is problematic to assume that the increase in alcohol consumption from 1934 to 1944 had more to do with the end of prohibition than the experience of the great depression. Additionally, even if the great depression had not happened correlation does not equal causation. Furthermore, even if we are to grant that alcohol consumption increased because prohibition ended that does not mean prohibition is preferable. It is widely acknowledged that prohibition was a failure and led directly to the rise of the glory days of organized crime—Al Capone is still a household name.
        In fact, it is entirely likely that when the world finally gets around to ending drug prohibition they will look back on it as we look back on alcohol prohibition. Even if the end of drug prohibition and the war on drugs did result in an increase in consumption, which is questionable considering the already existing bifurcation in consumption of hard drugs and soft drugs by class, why should we assume that the increase in consumption outweighs the benefits to the tremendous weakening of organized crime that can be expected in addition to the reduction of drug distribution related violence, and health benefits for drug users solely from having access to a regulated product.
        We have to understand that as Lee Brown said of “the war on drugs,” “A country shouldn’t declare war on its own people.” (211) The illegality of drugs and the associated stigma attached to their consumption directly affect the ability of people in need to get treatment.
    As Massing himself says, “It’s time to consider a new approach to prevention—one that, like the Jaffe code, would recognize that the main threat to young people is not the occasional, experimental use of drugs, but their regular use." (275)
    Friday, October 24th, 2008
    1:49 am

    Why shouldn't there already be an active investigation into the possibility of universal collaboration and participation in governmental decision-making i.e. direct democracy. Furthermore what insurmountable barriers, if any, would lie between a fledgling beginning experiment and a global world trust--a world government truly of the people, by the people, and for the people? A true political science is required; one in which the globe is combed for the policies that consistently result in the best outcomes. These ideas can be discussed and argued, overseen by agreed on forms of arbitration. This system would have to successfully utilize the best of science, law, and democracy to build the broadest possible consensus in the most accountable method possible.
    At the very minimum, our current systems of government and the various media establishments around the world are and will increasingly be unable to accommodate the globally compounding rate of change. Many have good reasons to be much more critical of many governments around the world. In the United States specifically, it has become very clear that there is undue corporate influence in government at the expense of the public. How long do we have to wait for justice for the many at little cost to the few?

    Those in the most need would most benefit, but this idea would benefit the whole world immensely, human and non-human alike. Maximum transparency helps guarantee effectiveness and prevent corruption. Freedom and the truth would be vastly expanded. Government could focus on policy and forgo politicking.
    This idea by its very nature lends itself to be initialized as an experiment in multiple instances simultaneously. Ideally it could begin at a very local level and only later be synthesized with other instances of wiki-government into a greater whole. We need to spread this idea like spores, each hopefully generating a new community.

    It might help to have an ultimate goal in mind.
    The terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights finally being fulfilled globally seems like as good a goal as any.

    We have to figure out a number of things, the most pressing of which is how to effectively organize and use this format to allow the functional building of the consensus that would be required if an actual wikigovernment is to actually function.

    I highly recommend "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competitiveness for Society's Benefit." An article by David Brin. "This unusual article looks at how truth is determined in our four 'accountability arenas' -- science, democracy, courts and markets. It was lead article in the American Bar Association's Journal on Dispute Resolution (Ohio State University), v.15, N.3, pp 597-618, Aug. 2000."

    It seems like it might be a place to start.

    Actually, priority number one should be getting the word out. What are the best ways to do that?
    Friday, December 21st, 2007
    3:08 am
    in the comments

    I think that actually perhaps Cato is just a part of more insidious trend - the intellectual mercenary. I posted a rant about this related to Intellectual Property rights on another website - perhaps it would a good starting point for some discussion:

    I think this is a much more important than it is given credit. We are increasingly living in a world of winner-takes-all-markets and misuse of intellectual property rights is part of the problem.
    I think you need to be clearer on several of the issues here.
    1. The difference between basic research and development work. This is where the Libertarian view of this area completely breaks down. It is not possible to reward basic research through the market because in its raw form it has no market value. But it has enormous potential value in applications that can be developed from it. So you have an issue of how to finance necessary infrastructure with all the free-rider problems associated with it.
    2. Knowledge does not just have an economic value, it has a social and political value. Having research controlled and directed by economic interests is potentially dangerous. There needs at least to be a process whereby private research can be checked and reproduced in the public sphere (perhaps while respecting private rights).
    3. The relationship between value added and reward is extremely uncertain. Many clever people can work hard for a long time and never acchieve anything valuable. Or they may be on the right track but slightly too late (have contributed to somebody else's success). And some rewards can monstrously exceed the value of the work. (Microsoft for instance). Research is like entering a lottery. The logic of this is that like in sports you need some sort of revenue sharing process to keep the grass roots healthy.
    4. Research may have value which is not commercially exploitable.
    (a) I remember a TV show in Australia called the inventors. One contestant invented a new sort of razor which gave a better shave and allowed razor blades to last much longer than convential razors. The marketing expert said he would be offered lots of money NOT to produce the product as all the money in shaving is in replacement blades. I never saw this product on the market. Draw your own conclusion.
    (b) Identifying negative externalities can increase social welfare by allowing regulation or cap and trade control mechanisms. It does not however, make money for the discoverer.

    All these considerations make me think the following makes sense:
    1. Shorten IP licences
    2. Subsidise research
    3. Separate functions where possible - manufacturers should not be able to control research institutes either directly or through grants.
    4. It may be necessary to licence several manufacturers to ensure competition in product development (see 3).

    A thought for an innovative way of financing research. Build a wall between exploiters of research and researchers. Finance ALL research by subscription (perhaps with votes as to which general areas will be researched by contribution). Then rights to use the results of research could be auctioned using already donated research funds (with some time lag) as a pseudo-currency.
    Friday, November 9th, 2007
    2:36 pm
    "The New York Times Style
    section published a feature on the rise of the term
    "vajayjay" to describe female genitalia. "The reason that
    vajayjay has caught on, I think, is because there is a
    black--Southern especially--naming tradition, which is to
    have names like Ray Ray and Boo Boo and things like that,"
    said John H. McWhorter, a linguist at the Manhattan
    Institute. "It sounds warm and familiar and it almost
    makes the vagina feel like a little cartoon character with
    eyes that walks around.""
    Tuesday, October 30th, 2007
    2:50 pm
    The Government Accountability Office reported that more than 755,000 names now appear on the U.S. terrorist watch list.

    FEMA apologized for holdinga fake press conference on the wildfires, with FEMAstaffers posing as reporters. "Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?" asked one fake reporter. "I'm very happy," said Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson, "with FEMA's response so far."
    Friday, October 26th, 2007
    3:43 pm
    until i have regular access to a computer again i'm going to suck at being online.
    3:40 pm
    House Passes And Refers To Senate Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2
    This is unbelievable. The most repressive piece of legislation yet from this administration. We need to make a huge deal over this--write, call, yell, scream. Say no to thought crimes before it's too late!!

    > Here's a link to the text of the bill:
    > And below is some commentary re the bill from the Daily Kos:
    > House Passes Thought Crime Prevention Bill
    > Lee Rogers
    > Rogue Government
    > October 25, 2007
    > The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed HR 1955 titled the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007. This bill is one of the most blatant attacks against the Constitution yet and actually defines thought crimes as homegrown terrorism. If passed into law, it will also establish a commission and a Center of Excellence to study and defeat so called thought criminals. Unlike previous anti-terror legislation, this bill specifically targets the civilian population of the United States and uses vague language to define homegrown terrorism. Amazingly, 404 of our elected representatives from both the Democrat and Republican parties voted in favor of this bill. There is little doubt that this bill is specifically targeting the growing patriot community that is demanding the restoration of the Constitution. First let's take a look at the definitions of violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism as defined in Section 899A of the bill.
    > The definition of violent radicalization uses vague language to define this term of promoting any belief system that the government considers to be an extremist agenda. Since the bill doesn't specifically define what an extremist belief system is, it is entirely up to the interpretation of the government. Considering how much the government has done to destroy the Constitution they could even define Ron Paul supporters as promoting an extremist belief system. Literally, the government according to this definition can define whatever they want as an extremist belief system. Essentially they have defined violent radicalization as thought crime. The definition as defined in the bill is shown below.
    > (2) VIOLENT RADICALIZATION- The term violent radicalization' means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.
    > ~Snip~
    > (3) HOMEGROWN TERRORISM- The term homegrown terrorism' means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.
    > ~Snip~
    > The biggest joke of all is that this section also says that any measure to prevent violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism should not violate the constitutional rights of citizens. However, the definition of violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism as they are defined in section 899A are themselves unconstitutional. The Constitution does not allow the government to arrest people for thought crimes, so any promises not to violate the constitutional rights of citizens are already broken by their own definitions.
    > SEC. 899B. FINDINGS.
    > The Congress finds the following:
    > (1) The development and implementation of methods and processes that can be utilized to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in the United States is critical to combating domestic terrorism.
    > (2) The promotion of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence exists in the United States and poses a threat to homeland security.
    > (3) The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.
    > (4) While the United States must continue its vigilant efforts to combat international terrorism, it must also strengthen efforts to combat the threat posed by homegrown terrorists based and operating within the United States.
    > (5) Understanding the motivational factors that lead to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence is a vital step toward eradicating these threats in the United States.
    > (6) The potential rise of self radicalized, unaffiliated terrorists domestically cannot be easily prevented through traditional Federal intelligence or law enforcement efforts, and requires the incorporation of State and local solutions.
    > (7) Individuals prone to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence span all races, ethnicities, and religious beliefs, and individuals should not be targeted based solely on race, ethnicity, or religion.
    > (8) Any measure taken to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism in the United States should not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights and civil liberties of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents.
    > (9) Certain governments, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia have significant experience with homegrown terrorism and the United States can benefit from lessons learned by those nations.
    > Section 899C calls for a commission on the prevention of violent radicalization and ideologically based violence. The commission will consist of ten members appointed by various individuals that hold different positions in government. Essentially, this is a commission that will examine and report on how they are going to deal with violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism. So basically, the commission is being formed specifically on how to deal with thought criminals in the United States. The bill requires that the commission submit their final report 18 months following the commission's first meeting as well as submit interim reports every 6 months leading up to the final report. Below is the bill's defined purpose of the commission. Amazingly they even define one of the purposes of the commission to determine the causes of lone wolf violent radicalization.
    > (b) Purpose- The purposes of the Commission are the following:
    > (1) Examine and report upon the facts and causes of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in the United States, including United States connections to non-United States persons and networks, violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence in prison, individual or lone wolf' violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence, and other faces of the phenomena of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence that the Commission considers important.
    > (2) Build upon and bring together the work of other entities and avoid unnecessary duplication, by reviewing the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of-
    > (A) the Center of Excellence established or designated under section 899D, and other academic work, as appropriate;
    > (B) Federal, State, local, or tribal studies of, reviews of, and experiences with violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence; and
    > (C) foreign government studies of, reviews of, and experiences with violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence.
    > Section 899D of the bill establishes a Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the United States. Essentially, this will be a Department of Homeland Security affiliated institution that will study and determine how to defeat thought criminals.
    > Section 899E of the bill discusses how the government is going to defeat violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism through international cooperation. As stated in the findings section earlier in the legislation, they will unquestionably seek the advice of countries with draconian police states like the United Kingdom to determine how to deal with this growing threat of thought crime.
    > Possibly the most ridiculous section of the bill is Section 899F which states how they plan on protecting civil rights and civil liberties while preventing ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism. Here is what the section says.
    > (a) In General- The Department of Homeland Security's efforts to prevent ideologically-based violence and homegrown terrorism as described herein shall not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, and civil liberties of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents.
    > (b) Commitment to Racial Neutrality- The Secretary shall ensure that the activities and operations of the entities created by this subtitle are in compliance with the Department of Homeland Security's commitment to racial neutrality.
    > (c) Auditing Mechanism- The Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Officer of the Department of Homeland Security will develop and implement an auditing mechanism to ensure that compliance with this subtitle does not result in a disproportionate impact, without a rational basis, on any particular race, ethnicity, or religion and include the results of its audit in its annual report to Congress required under section 705.'.
    > (b) Clerical Amendment- The table of contents in section 1(b) of such Act is amended by inserting at the end of the items relating to title VIII the following:
    > It states in the first subsection that in general the efforts to defeat thought crime shall not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights and civil liberties of the United States citizens and lawful permanent residents. How does this protect constitutional rights if they use vague language such as in general that prefaces the statement? This means that the Department of Homeland Security does not have to abide by the Constitution in their attempts to prevent so called homegrown terrorism.
    > This bill is completely insane. It literally allows the government to define any and all crimes including thought crime as violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism. Obviously, this legislation is unconstitutional on a number of levels and it is clear that all 404 representatives who voted in favor of this bill are traitors and should be removed from office immediately. The treason spans both political parties and it shows us all that there is no difference between them. The bill will go on to the Senate and will likely be passed and signed into the law by George W. Bush. Considering that draconian legislation like the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act have already been passed, there seems little question that this one will get passed as well. This is more proof that our country has been completely sold out by a group of traitors at all levels of government.
    Monday, October 15th, 2007
    3:00 pm
    "James Razsa, who cleaned the Kennebunkport pool of former President George H.W. Bush, told a reporter that 'if every American had to pool-boy for these people for a day, you'd have a revolution on your hands.'"

    "Canadian researchers found that lonely, bullied, or ostracized children have sex earlier than happier children"

    "researcher Craig Venter announced that he has constructed a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals, creating the first artificial life form on Earth"

    gotta love harpers weekly in the inbox
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